Customer Review

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inpressive and enjoyable, 25 Oct 2010
This review is from: Bach: Cantatas Vol.12 (Cantatas For 22/ 23 Sunday After Trinity) (Audio CD)
I have been collecting more or less the entire Suzuki series, mostly for cost reasons, but have also been collecting some of the John Eliot Gardiner "pilgrimage" albums, including this one. This is because, in general, there are some occasions when Suzuki doesn't quite hit the mark and Gardiner definitely does. It wotks the other way too. I also own a CD of Bach arias performed by Bostridge and Biondi, which cover one of the cantatas on this album (no. 55) and also an aria from another cantata on this album (No 139)

On the whole I found these performances both impressive and enjoyable. For me the critical tests for performances of Bach cantatas are whether the performance conveys the true stature of the music, and also whether it engages me emotionally. For by far the most part I think the performances convincingly pass these tests.

I want to mention a few aspects,both positive and negative that particularly struck me-first the positive (1)-(3):

(1) I thought that the overall standard of the solo singing was good. The soloist who stood out most for me me was the baritone Peter Harvey, who has quite a lot to do here. His singing was usually both beautiful and affecting. His lower register isn't very strong, but this mostly didn't seem to matter.

(2) I preferred James Gilchrist/Gardiner's performance of cantata no. 55 to Bostridge/Biondi's. This is largely for reasons unconnected with the singing- in the former performance the tempo of the first aria is too quick and not suited to the character of the music. Also I think the obbligato in the second aria is more affecting when performed with a flute (as under Gardiner) rather than with a violin (Biondi), despite the variable intonation of a baroque flute. I also don't think that James Gilchrist's singing in this cantata, as a whole, is inferior to Bostridge's. I thought Gilchrist's singing of the second aria was outstanding.

(3) As has been noted, this album contains the celebrated cantata no. 140 ("Wachet Auf"). i have been familiar with this for many many years and still think this one of Bach's greatest works. The performance does the work justice and sounds vibrant and fresh, inspite of the fact that Gardiner and the performers must be very familar with it. I found the second duet a bit less engaging tban the rest (perhaps because it didn't seem to suit Peter Harvey's voice so well).

(4) The first movements of cantatas 60 and 89 were slightly lacking in intensity. I think this was down to the interpretative approach adopted by Gardiner, rather than deficiencies in the singing.

(5) in general I thought there was a slight over-emphasis on small points of detail (down to Gardiner again)-eg the dynamic contrasts on the first syllable of "alleluia" in the first chorus of cantata 140. However, I don't think one should give this aspect too much importance

(6) The first aria of cantata 139 sounded rather rushed as it also does as performed by Bostridge/Biondi. Bostridge's singing is definitely superior to Gardiner's tenor in this aria.

(7) I didn't particularly take to cantata 52 apart from the sinfonia (the opening to Brandenburg concerto no.1), which was performed with great verve. The rest of the work seemed musically rather insignificant compared with the other cantatas on the album, and the soprano used a bit too much vibrato for my taste.

In summary I would pose 2 questions: Is this album worth purchasing? Definitely yes-I would add that Gardiner has written some fascinating things in the liner notes about the works performed, which is a clear bonus. Secondly, on the strength of the works performed, is Gardiner clearly a superior Bach interpreter to Suzuki? My answer to this is no!

Antony Ornstin
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Dec 2010 17:12:03 GMT
Simon Clarke says:
Antony---Many thanks --a first class review.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Dec 2010 18:14:17 GMT
Simon-Thank you so much for your very kind words. Much appreciated. Best wishes, Antony
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